Lives of the fellows

James Kenneth Cameron

b.20 June 1905 d.30 April 1985
MRCS LRCP Lond(1927) MB ChB Liverp(1927) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1969)

Kenneth Cameron - known to his friends as Jake - was a local celebrity on Merseyside for 20 years; he made an impact from the day of his appointment as medical superintendent of Leasowe Open Air Hospital on the Wirral in 1947 until his retirement to North Wales in 1969. His fame spread far beyond the confines of the medical profession into the music world of the region. His renown as a raconteur and conversationalist made him very welcome at concerts, meetings and dinners where he displayed his brilliant wit.

Kenneth was born at Rockferry, Cheshire, the son of James Cameron, an analytical chemist, and his wife Alice Jones whose father, Henry, was a boot manufacturer. He was educated at Birkenhead School and the University of Liverpool. After the usual house appointments at the David Lewis Northern Hospital, Liverpool, (now the Royal Northern), he became medical registrar and tutor. While working as a registrar he gained his membership of the College. It was said that he was the youngest man to have passed this examination and he seemed set for a teaching career at the Northern. But Jake Cameron fell in love and in those days, without private means, general practice provided the only way in the medical profession to support a wife and family. He married Sheelah Wilkinson in 1931, and they had one daughter, Jane. It was at this time that he moved to Milnethorpe, Westmorland. He had been in general practice some four years when, at the age of 30, he became crippled by severe ankylosing spondylitis. He was bed-ridden for the next four years, nursed by Sheelah in a cottage in Anglesey.

By the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 Jake had started to get about on crutches and had a petrol driven three-wheel invalid carriage. The Emergency Medical Service appointed him superintendent of the Ormskirk EMS Hospital, Lancashire, and when hostilities ended Jake found that his own long illness and his years at Ormskirk enabled him to return to specialist work as a resident doctor at the North Wales Sanatorium, for the incidence of tuberculosis had greatly increased during the war years. The hospital at Llangwyfan stood high and remote in the Clwyd range, near Denbigh, and in the winter it was often snowbound. There were fabulous tales of the manpower and spade-work needed at this time of the year in order to get Jake and his carriage there, so that he could work in the wards. In 1947 he was appointed chest physician to the Leasowe (Wirral) Open Air Hospital, where he spent 22 happy years, concentrating on the treatment of lung tuberculosis in children. It led to his paper on the role of surgery in the treatment of primary pulmonary tuberculosis in children, based on a long term study of 409 children, in collaboration with John Hay [Munk's Roll, Vol.V,p. 178] and Leslie Temple. In 1969 he was elected a Fellow of the College.

It was in Ormskirk that he took up the violin while reclining in his invalid carriage. He became accomplished on this instrument and as a musicologist, and was the anchor-man in an amateur quartet. He was also an ardent supporter of the Rodewald Music Society in Liverpool. His arms and hands had escaped serious involvement with arthritis, so that he apprenticed himself to Mellor Riding, a well known cabinet maker in the northwest of England, and became adept at cabinet making. He was no mean opponent at croquet, in which his mallet took the place of crutches, and in later years he became an expert embroiderer and contributed many pieces of work to Exeter Cathedral. Fortunately he was able to continue with his ‘manual hobbies’ until the end of his life, and could keep up a lengthy correspondence with friends all over the world. He was extremely well read and his knowledge of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Donne was encyclopaedic.

In his 70s, after retirement to a bungalow on the moors above Ruthin, he designed and built himself a weaving loom and made cloth from which he nad a suit tailored. He also made ‘lengths’ for Sheelah and Jane. Jane (Hobson) became a marine biologist of considerable fame.

Under the guidance of the Forestry Commission, Jake’s Welsh hillside was planted with specimen trees and he pursued gardening day by day. with tools he designed and made himself which enabled him to do what might have appeared to be impossible jobs. Inevitably, there came a day when he overbalanced and fell, fracturing his hip, but he survived the accident and returned to many of his previous activities. As the years passed, his arthritis and ankylosis worsened but he stayed on his crutches until the end. His determination in the face of adversity was characteristic of him, and he retained his sparkling intellect and conversation until the day, when living with his daughter in the Isle of Man after the death of his wife in 1983, a haemorrhage from a vocal cord tumour brought about his death.

HK Lucas

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,1255]

(Volume VIII, page 72)

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